Nano-sized molecules of a certain chemical element can inhibit the formation of plaque in brain tissue. This new discovery by researchers at the University of Umeå, Sweden, in collaboration with researchers in Croatia and Lithuania, raises new long-term hope for novel treatments for, for example, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“This is indeed a very important step that could form the basis for new and efficient treatments for neurodegenerative diseases in the future,” says Professor Ludmilla Morozova-Roche from the University of Umeå.

When proteins fold incorrectly, they form insoluble fibrils called amyloids, which are implicated in several serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Corino de Andrade, and mad cow disease. Amyloid aggregates kill neuronal cells and form amyloid plaques in brain tissue.

What researchers in Umeå in Sweden, Vilnius in Lithuania and Rijeka in Croatia have found is that a specific nanoscale molecule can inhibit amyloid formation of the pro-inflammatory protein S100A9. These molecules are able to dissolve even preformed amyloids, which has been shown by atomic force microscopy and fluorescence techniques. The molecules are nanoscale polyoxoniobates, so-called polyoxometallate ions with a negative charge, which contain the chemical element niobium.

“More research is needed before we can say with certainty that working treatments can be derived from this, but the results so far have shown great promise,” says Ludmilla Morozova-Roche.

The researchers worked with two different polyoxoniobate molecules, Nb10 and TiNb9. Both inhibit SI00A9 amyloids by entering into ionic interactions with the positively charged spots on the protein surface, which are crucial for amyloid self-organization. The investigated polyoxoniobate molecules are chemically relatively stable and water-soluble. The molecules are nanoscale, which means that they are extremely small. Due to their high biocompatibility and stability, these nanomolecules can also be of interest for other medical applications such as implants.

At Umeå University, two research groups from the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Chemistry worked together, approaching the subject from different angles and applying a wide range of biophysical and biochemical techniques, as well as through molecular dynamics simulations.

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